Hearing loss in older adults on the rise
Nearly two-thirds of adults 70 and older have hearing loss, according to a new study by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging.
While the rate is climbing for older adults as a whole, African-Americans appear to have less risk of developing hearing loss, researchers found. The reasons why, however, remain unknown.
Researchers say their study offers a sweeping look at a condition that is often underreported. Most people think of hearing loss in the elderly as a minor health issue, but researchers are beginning to find links between hearing loss and such conditions as dementia, cognitive decline and physical health problems.
The findings, published online this week in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, come from an analysis of a national survey from 2005-2006. Of 717 people aged 70 or older in the study, 63 percent had hearing loss, ranging from mind to severe, researchers found. Despite that relatively large number, only about one-fifth of adults with hearing loss use hearing aids, the authors write.
When researchers broke down their findings by race, they found about 64 percent of white participants had hearing loss, while that figure was 43 percent for blacks. Even after they accounted for factors such as previous noise exposure, which is associated with hearing loss, they found blacks in the study had about a third of the chance of having hearing loss compared to whites.
As with most racial disparities in health care, researchers aren't sure why there may be a racial difference in hearing loss. They suggested that pigment produced by cells in the skin and the inner ear might help protect the ear, but they aren't sure. Clearly, the issue needs more study as this was a small survey.Baltimore Sun file photo of a hearing aid/Lloyd Fox